When someone asks LDC veteran educator Nancy Gardner what she teaches, she responds, “I teach students—not English.” She explains: “By this I mean that I see my role as a teacher as helping students learn life skills like problem solving, reasoning, and use of evidence—skills they’ll need for success, whether they go on to college or pursue a career—much more than just English.”
Nancy is a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) who teaches seniors at Mooresville High School in Mooresville, North Carolina, a community about 30 minutes from Charlotte. The district includes eight schools; 40% of students in the district are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Nancy first experienced LDC during the 2011–2012 school year when she participated in a pilot conducted by the Center for Teaching Quality. The pilot included 20 middle school and high school NBCTs from Kentucky and North Carolina, and two Virtual Community Organizers.
One of the goals of the pilot was for these teachers, who already knew what quality instruction required, to spread the word to other educators about the transformative power of LDC tools. Eleanor Dougherty, a member of the original LDC Design Team, conducted the initial training. Over the course of a year, the teachers met face-to-face and in regularly scheduled webinars. At first, Nancy admits, it wasn’t easy to wrap her head around the Common Core, and the workflow around the LDC framework seemed a little daunting as well. But as she continued with the training and applied what she learned in her classroom, it started to come together.
She credits LDC for helping her “cut to the chase” with the Common Core. The trick, she says, was never losing sight of the final product (student outcomes): “Focusing on the task helps students produce better work. You have to keep reminding yourself: ‘Am I asking the right questions?’” She adds that incorporating LDC in her practice elevated her understanding of the Common Core and, most importantly, provided a process for helping students where they are at and getting them to the next level.
“LDC is a suitcase of possibilities!” Nancy claims, because it allows teachers to “plug in” their own content. Creating tasks that lead to rigorous student assignments connects the work directly to classroom practice, enabling students to develop reading, writing, and thinking skills throughout the instructional day.
“LDC is not about teaching the Common Core by template,” she notes. “I think of it in terms of architecture and structure. The architects envisioned and created the design and the plan. We teachers are the carpenters—the ones with our feet on the ground, the ones who figure out the best way to build it.” LDC lets teachers build in their content on a firm foundation, so that instruction can be shared across a wide variety of grades, core foundational subjects, and instructional approaches.
Recognized by the School Superintendents Association as the 2013 Superintendent of the Year, Mooresville superintendent Mark Edwards initiated a digital one-to-one initiative in 2009 that provided 24/7 laptop use for every student in Grades 4−12—part of a broader plan to prepare students for college and career in today’s technology-driven environment. The initiative also included more professional learning opportunities for teachers. Nancy says the district’s emphasis on digital technology forced a school-wide cultural shift to a more collaborative environment that is less teacher-centered and more student-centered—a move that complements the LDC approach. Mooresville teachers are now collaborating more with teachers as well as with their students.
This year, 20 National Board Certified teachers across three districts in North Carolina are participating in an LDC implementation sponsored by the Center for Teaching Quality. Nancy Gardner and Rod Powell, an LDC colleague at Mooresville and fellow participant in the 2011–2012 pilot, are serving as lead teachers. Educators engaged in this implementation will become part of a national professional community that uses LDC’s flexible framework to meet the specific needs of individual students.
When asked if she had any words of advice for LDC “newbies,” Nancy said: “Don’t get overwhelmed by the templates. Focus instead on the end product and what it represents in terms of what students have to do to get there. Eventually, they will get there. Remember: It’s a process.”